SANDOVAL COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) — A new-to-New Mexico treatment is being credited with helping to save a local firefighter’s life. His colleagues say there was no warning. He was young, fit and healthy. Sandoval County Firefighters never thought one of their coworkers would become one of their patients. That is, until they spotted the classic signs of a silent killer.
“As soon as I walked around the corner, it was pretty obvious what was going on with him.”
Lt. Shannon Cherry and Adilene Enriquez’s colleague and friend, Eric Hawton, had a blood clot in his brain.
“He had facial droop. There were a couple people trying to speak with him, he was unable to talk to them. He couldn’t articulate words,” Cherry said.
Eric Hawton, 47, was having a stroke.
“I was nervous. I definitely was because I know the person,” said Enriquez.
It was a first for Enriquez. She had never seen a stroke. Enriquez is in Sandoval County Fire’s residency program and volunteers at Station 21.
She and Cherry were two of the EMT’s on shift that evening. A training session was underway when a real-world emergency cut the course short.
“Some of the students who were in the class saw him,” said Enriquez. “They came running to us in the day room and they were telling us, ‘He’s having a stroke! He’s having a stroke!'”
“We had just been talking with him a few minutes earlier in the day room,” Cherry said.
Cherry and his crew wasted no time. They rushed Hawton to UNM Hospital and into the care of a team that could save him.
Dr. Howard Yonas heads an elite team of doctors, specially trained to deal with big clot cases like Hawton’s.
“You see that sort of thing, immediately, and the patient goes straight to the angiogram suite,” said Dr. Yonas.
That’s where doctors thread this special contraption up through a blood vessel, from the groin to the brain. Once they reach the clot, doctors deploy the device, grab the clot and remove it with a suction tube.
The revolutionary technique is now the standard of care, but Dr. Yonas and his team are the only ones equipped to do it in New Mexico.
“These are very special people. They’re very rare. Very expensive to bring people like that here and have them ready to go 24-7,” said Yonas.
For Hawton, this type of care was crucial, but without the help of his colleagues, it would have done little good.
“The later you get here, the worse the outcome,” Yonas said.
It’s why Cherry and Enriquez are glad they were there and knew exactly what to do.
“It’s pretty rewarding to be able to see him again and see that he’s doing better,” said Lt. Cherry. “It makes us all take stock of our career, our life.”
Hawton is now back home, recovering. Dr. Yonas says his program meets all the requirements for comprehensive stroke accreditation. That means a hospital is prepared to treat the most complex cases 24-7. Yonas hopes to receive the designation this year.
Click here for more information about strokes and how to spot them.